Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Memories of times past

I'm not Proust, but I had one of those experiences just now. I was cooking a recipe gleaned from a local blogger (Maan's Beans) and looking into the pot with tomato, onions, garlic and green beans and I was suddenly transported back to a Safeway in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where I was buying my very first zucchini. Where I grew up, we didn't have zucchini. We had summer squash, mostly pattipan. We cooked this by cutting it up and boiling it with butter and salt and pepper and probably some sugar. But I was a curious child and would browse the supermarket shelves for hints of new and better things. (Frozen vegetables were still not common.) So I found the Del Monte Italian Zucchini, and took my prize home to try it. It was boiled in a tomato sauce, probably with some onion and Italian seasonings. As I recall, it was pretty bland, but I was enchanted with this wholly new foodstuff. What kinds of people might eat this every day? Where did it come from and where was it going? Romance is half the battle with food, anyway.

Later, I grew (and ate) plenty of zucchini, mostly saute├ęd in butter or made into ratatouille or a sort of squash-egg-brown rice material that helped get us through graduate school (this was my Diet for A Small Planet phase). I got thoroughly tired of it and there was definitely no more romance.

Lately, I've been experimenting with all types of summer squash, planting different types with a premium on flavor. So in filling out my seed order, I naturally gravitated to Costata Romanesco, said to be the most delicious zucchini. Of course, with my disillusionment with zucchini, that wouldn't take much. Still, something about it made me put it into my cart.

Only later did I wonder what I had done. Why did I buy this weird ribbed zucchini? So to Google, of course. I have now concluded that this may be the original Italian zucchini, before the hybridizers got to it. It is reputed to have a really excellent flavor. But there's more! It is also what the English call "vegetable marrow".

VEGETABLE MARROW! I've been trying to figure out what this is for years. It seems that C. R. ages very well and when it gets to be big (submarine), it retains an excellent, non-pithy structure and is very fine for stuffing. Expatriate English are reputed to pine for this vegetable, which as I understand is served with a white sauce. According to a farm blog I found on Google, the farmer was able to sell his big submarines at market to these starved refugees, though his CSA customers scorned them. But there's more!

When Hercule Poirot tried to retire from detecting at an estimated age of 101, for a time he retreated to the English countryside and grew vegetable marrows. One of Agatha Christie's latter mysteries began with him throwing these (presumably still edible) vegetables over the fence and disturbing some spinsters. I've always wondered what those were.

So the Romance of zucchini still lives. I just hope it really does taste good.


JoanBailey said...

I was just trolling about various blogs, and found this one. I just made this dish again today to serve to friends coming tomorrow to take down a sadly dying ash tree in our back yard. The firewood will keep us all warm for the remainder of this winter and into the next. I, of course, think of Maan and the many meals and good times I've shared with family and friends at their home. I was similarly transported today as I stirred the pot. Thanks for the great post.

Buttercup said...

Thanks for the great recipe! (Maan's Beans) I've found that I can freeze it, so it will definitely be on the list for next summer - to eat newly made but also to keep.